Scott Roper (Eddie Murphy) is the best hostage negotiator in San Francisco. His girlfriend Veronica "Ronnie" Tate (Carmen Ejogo) is a newspaper reporter. Scott and Veronica have a dog named Troy. While listening to a horse race on his car stereo, Scott is called downtown where a man named Earl (Donal Logue) is holding 17 hostages in a bank. Scott rescues the hostages by shooting Earl. Scott is then assigned a partner -- sharpshooter Kevin McCall (Michael Rapaport). That night, Scott takes his friend, Lieutenant Sam Baffert (Art Evans), to see a man named Michael Korda (Michael Wincott). Scott waits downstairs while Sam is in Korda's apartment. Sam asks Korda about a man who deals in stolen jewelry, because Sam suspects that some of the dealer's jewels came from Korda, who is a professional jewel thief. Sam's visit with Korda ends with Korda killing Sam. When Scott hears a woman in the building scream at the sight of Sam's body, Scott runs inside the building and sees the body. Scott wants revenge on Korda, but Captain Frank Solis (Denis Arndt) refuses to let Scott work the case, so Scott decides to work the case on his own. Scott and Kevin go to a horse race track, where they win a bundle of money, then they are called to a downtown jewelry store where hostages are being held. When Scott sees that Korda is the hostage taker, Korda grabs a hostage and leaves in a truck. Scott and Kevin use Captain Solis's car to chase Korda. Korda wrecks the truck, and leaves the hostage behind when he gets out of the truck. Korda then boards a trolley car, and Scott and Kevin start chasing the trolley car. While up close, Scott jumps onto the trolley car, leaving Kevin to drive Solis's car. Scott and Kevin manage to stop the trolley car, and they chase Korda into a parking garage, where Korda tries to hit Scott with a car. Scott and Kevin still manage to grab Korda. During visitation at the jail with his cousin Clarence Teal (Paul Ben-Victor), Korda orders Teal to kill Ronnie as a way to get back at Scott. Teal shows up at Ronnie's apartment that night and attacks Ronnie. Scott shows up and chases Teal down the fire escape, and Teal is hit and killed by a car. On the next morning, Korda escapes from the jail, and soon after escaping, Korda kidnaps Ronnie, luring Scott into a confrontation at an abandoned shipyard.